2020 has thrown businesses into disarray. Many previously had omnichannel strategies, however have been forced to adopt online-only in a year that’ll be remembered for lockdowns and video calls. The current issue facing many businesses is that while having invested in content management systems (CMS), e-commerce platforms and analytics solutions, they’re falling behind when it comes to the most important part of the equation—AI-powered search. At the end of the day, if customers can’t find the product or solution they’re looking for, they won’t buy it.
The state of e-commerce in 2020
According to National Australia Bank’s Retail Sales Index, in the 12 months to September 2020 (the most recent figures available at the time of writing) Australians spent $40.9 billion online. That’s 38.7 per cent higher than the 12 months to September 2019—needless to say, Australians are making more online purchases in 2020.
This shows that online—and more specifically, a business’ website—is the new shopfloor, showroom, office and so on. So what can be done to make sure customers can find what they want, when they want it?
As I mentioned earlier, businesses can have most of the right systems in place, and still fall down when it comes to giving customers the power to find what they want online.
The answer is search, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML).
The AI revolution
When a new customer arrives on an organisation’s website, the first thing they do is search for what they want. And with the boom in online shopping, for Australia’s largest brands, this is going to happen tens of thousands (or perhaps even more) of times per day. Even smaller brands will have to deal with hundreds, if not thousands of requests per day.
Standard online search engines are rules-based; they’re static and can’t adapt to the customer, their purchase history or their request.
The worst that will happen is a customer will search for an item, and won’t get a result because their search keywords don’t match the product name or service name. At best, they’ll get a laundry list of results, which asks the customer to scroll through and find the product best matching their search—if the business is lucky, the customer will have time and look through. However, what’s more likely is the customer will get frustrated and click over to a competitor’s website in the hope of finding what they are after.
The goal, then, is to improve the customer experience (CX) and help them find what they want straight away. This is where AI-powered search comes into play; it is the glue connecting a business’ CMS and the e-commerce platform. An effective search organises the user by intent, through a query in the CMS and then leads to execution when the consumer actually buys something on the e-commerce platform.
AI has the ability to read unstructured data and convert it into the customer’s intent to buy. The customer benefits because they don’t need to know the exact words for their search—the system infers it by what it’s learned over time, and will constantly improve the more searches that are done on it. For example, a consumer may land on a website selling sports goods and search “football”. A standard search will match the keywords to the CMS and will likely return results relating to AFL or NRL. An AI-powered search solution will understand the consumer and may recognise their interest in English football, otherwise known as soccer—it will therefore return results relevant to what they want.
Investing in search powered by ML and AI is an investment in the future. And with consumers realising the benefits and convenience of digital, it’s an investment businesses can’t afford to miss out on.